Wednesday, December 8, 2010

New Normal



The New Normal (NYT, 12/08/10)

The 'deal' orchestrated by President Obama and his 'team' with the Rethugs is already being debated. Last night, Charlie Rose had four commentators in round-table discussion (more or less; only one was actually in the studio): U.S. Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D - Illinois) and Anthony Weiner (D - NY), Kenneth Rogoff (Thomas D. Cabot Professor of Public Policy, and Professor of Economics at Harvard University), and Al Hunt, the Managing Editor for Bloomberg News.

Rogoff and Hunt were the Center-Right guests; Schakowsky and Weiner (who is one of the Democrats' most articulate and energetic spokespersons) were Progressive-Left. While Rogoff pooh-poohed it all with a well-so-what? attitude, Schakowsky and Weiner were absolutely clear: This 'compromise' adds hundreds of billions of dollars to the National Debt in order to provide tax breaks for billionaires (That, nearly a direct quote from Weiner).

Hunt noted that his reporters tell him the Republicans were willing to make more compromises, if the President and his administration had made a harder fight -- and were amazed when they received everything they wanted, allowing them to give Obama only one real concession: Extension of unemployment benefits.

Hunt related that the Republicans had instructions to give ground on everything except provisions in the Bush Tax Cuts involving the Estate Tax (of most benefit to only the wealthiest Americans with extremely large personal fortunes) -- that they would give Obama everything except that.

Rogoff concluded that there were many provisions in the deal that assisted the working poor and families; Representative Weiner responded that this was important, and that compromise in Washington is expected -- but, he asked, where was the President we voted for? He didn't define the debate for the country, allowing the Rethugs to do that.

Weiner asked, "People expected that [Obama] was going to roll up his sleeves and fight for America's middle-class working families." Why didn't he do that? Why does he say now this deal was the "best" he and his team could do -- when that is so obviously not true?

In the end, Weiner added, the people who benefited the most from the 'deal' were the 10,000 or so members of America's First Families, the top two per cent of the population. Legislation which allows them to protect their billions is long-lasting -- as befits the Rethug perspective that this is the "Owner" Class, the true source of jobs and prosperity in a trickle-down world.

For the rest of us, the 'deal' will provide short-term benefits; they are supposed to be a second 'Stimulus Package' without being openly labeled as such. But 'stimulus' is just that -- a short pulse, like using a defibrillator to restart the heart of a dying patient. Unlike the continuing fortunes of the First Families, it's disposable; it isn't meant to last.

Representative Schakowsky added that other Rethugs are now appearing in the media, crowing, on the strength of having gotten the Democrats to cave so easily -- and that now, they're announcing next year in Congress, we're going to vote on spending cuts. "They're going to take this momentum and go after programs like school tuition and help for families; programs that benefit the middle class."

This has always been their agenda, she added, and the President has given them every indication he won't stand up to them.

In looking at the New York Times this morning, what caught my eye was not the analysis in their main article about the deal: It was the caption below a photo accompanying the article: ...The unemployment rate, now at 9.8 per cent, is expected to be near 8 per cent by the end of 2012.

Please look at the job seekers in the accompanying photograph -- young and middle-aged black women, and an older white man. In most places in America, this is predominantly the face of unemployment: Young and black, or older and white.

8 per cent unemployment. With televisions blaring advertisements about luxury cars and vacations, sports and images of upward mobility for all; telling us everything is fine; just go back to sleep...

This is the 'new normal we're being asked to swallow. And this is acceptable?